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Cablegate: Taiwan Gears Up for Its First Ever "Three-in-One"

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

030957Z Oct 05

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TAIPEI 004061

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE PASS AIT/W

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV TW
SUBJECT: TAIWAN GEARS UP FOR ITS FIRST EVER "THREE-IN-ONE"
ELECTION


1. (SBU) Summary: Taiwan will hold its first island-wide
comprehensive local election on December 3. With steadily
declining voter turnout in recent years due to voter fatigue
over Taiwan's frequent elections, the government decided to
combine voting for county magistrates/city mayors,
county/city councilors, and township/village chiefs. The
ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) pushed the reform
in an effort to reduce both costs and voter fatigue, despite
predictions that the reform would benefit the opposition
Kuomintang Party (KMT) more than the DPP, and in the face of
internal DPP opposition because of this expectation. Though
the official deadline for candidate registration is October
4, political parties have already made and publicized their
candidate nominations. The three-in-one initiative should
encourage increased voter turnout, as voting in county
magistrate and city mayor elections has traditionally been
high. End Summary.

Why Three-In-One?
-----------------

2. (U) Yu Ming-hsien, Director of the Central Election
Commission (CEC) Election Administration Division told AIT
that Taiwan will hold its first ever "three-in-one" combined
local election on Saturday, December 3. Previously,
officials at the town, city, and county levels were elected
in two tranches: one election normally in December for
county magistrates and city mayors, and another in January
for to elect county/city council members and township/village
chiefs. The CEC, Yu explained, decided to consolidate these
two elections primarily to reduce the cost and frequency of
elections as well as to reduce voter fatigue. The December
election is referred to as "three-in-one" because officials
are elected to three different levels of office: (1) county
magistrates/city mayors, (2) county/city councilors, and (3)
township/village chiefs.

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Political Resistance to Change
------------------------------

3. (SBU) Yu told AIT that the CEC met some political
resistance in moving to the new election format. At the
local level, many county magistrates and city mayors were
opposed because there would be no sitting local officials to
support their campaigns. DPP magistrates and mayors, in
particular, opposed this change because they believe Pan-Blue
candidates will benefit more from the change. Most
eventually accepted the reforms because of DPP central party
support for the change and perhaps also because of the
obvious cost savings of the reform.

4. (SBU) When Premier Frank Hsieh first announced the
three-in-one change in February 2005, DPP Chairman Su
Tseng-chang and his supporters immediately and publicly

SIPDIS
rejected the change. Su supporters at the time told AIT that
they saw this as an early Hsieh move to disadvantage Su's
2008 presidential nomination prospects, by reducing Su's
visibility to just one three-in-one election. The
unprecedented low voter turnout of 23 percent in the May 14
National Assembly election, however, reignited the drive to
reform the Taiwan election system. With little internal DPP
opposition, the CEC in June announced the three-in-one
election.

5. (SBU) Yu told AIT that the three-in-one election will
probably benefit Pan-Blue parties, because these parties,
especially the KMT, are well-organized and entrenched at the
grassroots level, where the majority of elected officials are
Pan-Blue.

What's at Stake?
----------------

6. (U) The election will include voting for 18 county
magistrates and 5 city mayors (excluding Taipei City and
Kaohsiung City, which will hold elections in December 2006);
county and city councilors; and village and township mayors
island-wide. The county magistrate and mayoral elections at
stake, the most important of the three tiers of elections,
are widely viewed as a prelude to the 2007 Legislative Yuan
and 2008 Presidential elections.

7. (U) Although the three elections will now occur on the
same day, their four-year terms of office will remain
staggered. While designating election day is a relative
simple administrative adjustment, office terms can only be
changed by amending local laws. Thus, county magistrates and
city mayors will assume office on December 20, while council
members and township/village chiefs will take office on March
1.

Election Schedule, Procedure and Nominations
--------------------------------------------

8. (U) Official candidate registration was scheduled for
Sept 30 - Oct 4, but the deadline has been extended in some
areas due to Typhoon Longwang, which struck Taiwan on October
2. Political parties, however, have already publicly
announced their candidates. After the registration deadline,
Yu told AIT, candidate lists cannot be changed. Although
unofficial candidate lists will be available in the media
immediately after the close of registration, the central and
local election commissions will not finish verifying
candidate qualifications until November 1. Voting will take
place on Saturday, December 3, 08:00-16:00, with each voter
given three separate ballots, one each for each of the three
elections. Ballots for city county magistrates and city
mayors will be counted first, followed by those for council
members, and then those for township and village mayors.
Unofficial results will probably be available by 22:00 that
evening, with certified results published on December 8.

Campaign Finance and Voter Turnout
----------------------------------

9. (U) Campaign spending limits for each election are
calculated according to the population of the election
district. According to Yu, however, these limits are openly
flouted and amounts reported are widely fudged. There is not
even a requirement for reporting campaign contributions.

10. (U) Yu told AIT that Taiwan has historically exhibited
high voter turnout in county magistrate and city mayor
elections, so the three-in-one election would probably not
have a major impact on voter turnout. Still, he
acknowledged, the new format would undoubtedly increase voter
numbers somewhat. Given Taiwan voters' high interest in
local elections, Yu continued, voter turn-out on December 3
could be as high as 70 percent, or even higher.

Other Election-Related Reforms
------------------------------

11. (U) The Executive Yuan (EY) has drafted legislation to
be submitted to the Legislative Yuan (LY) sometime this Fall
that would abolish township and village elections altogether,
replacing them with political appointments. The DPP, which
is less organized at the local level, supports this change,
while the highly organized KMT opposes and will likely use
its majority control of the LY to block the change in order
to preserve KMT dominance at the township/village level.

Role of the CEC
------------------

12. (U) The CEC is responsible for administering all Taiwan
elections. It oversees two provincial election commissions
(Taiwan and Fujian, the latter including Kinmen and Matsu
islands), below each of which are city and county election
commissions. Yu told AIT the CEC is considering merging with
the two provincial committees to reduce redundancy. CEC
members are nominated by the Premier and appointed by the
President, leaving it open to charges of partisanship by the
opposition. Charging that the CEC has been biased since the
2004 presidential election, the KMT has expressed concern
that CEC partisanship will influence the LY redistricting
process, adversely affecting the KMT's LY election prospects
in 2007. Yu insisted to AIT that these charges are
unfounded, pointing to CEC support for the three-in-one
election despite benefiting the Pan-Blue opposition.

13. (U) The CEC maintains a web site at www.cec.gov.tw that
has information on Taiwan's election laws and links to local
election committees and historic election data. The
information on the English version of the site is limited.
PAAL

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